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So what does commissioning mean? How do I implement it? What is the benefit?

The standard definition of commissioning is:

“a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria.”

In practical terms this means that the entire project is thoroughly planned well, executed well and verified as operating correctly at the end of the project. The project is also monitored for a period of time to determine performance in different seasons.

Think about it this way, how is it possible for any well-designed system to be efficient if it was not installed or controlled properly? Short answer is that if it isn’t done correctly, then it can’t be efficient. This is why commissioning is a prerequisite of attaining LEED certification (LEED meaning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – the main construction standard for “Green Buildings”). Meaning that if you don’t do commissioning, then your building can’t be considered a “Green Building”.

While working in this field I observed that commissioning should be implemented on every project, yet this isn’t currently what happens in construction. How does a professional convince project owners that they should commission their buildings if the average person doesn’t understand the benefits of green building or commissioning? Asking myself this question was a driving factor in creating the idea behind Future Proof and the inspiration necessary to write my book, “How to Future Proof Your Home.” This is why I took my knowledge in the commercial world and applied it to a situation that most people care about and can identify with. Watch this video to learn how Future Proofing applies to all buildings.

So how to implement it? Well in the ideal situation, an owner will be educated as to what they want and have an idea of how to get there. This happens even before the design of a project by setting goals and objectives for the project, ideally by discovering these goals through research, lessons learned from other facilities or by approaching an experienced commissioning agent. These goals and objectives should be hashed out by the owner and commissioning authority prior to approaching a design team. The commissioning agent then acts as a technical authority on behalf of the owner to assist the design team with meeting the project goals and verifying an efficient design for the project before it goes to tender.

As the project unfolds, commissioning is to be implemented by the entire construction team throughout the entire project. Everyone is responsible for providing a quality product and installation. While this is expected in all projects, the difference is that with a third party commissioning agent involved in the process, the owner has some technical muscle on their side. The commissioning agent helps with communication and works as a type of insurance policy in their favor.

As part of commissioning, the completion of critical activities is tracked more rigorously and helps the project to stay on time and budget which provides value to everyone on the team. By implementing the commissioning process, equipment is implicitly tracked and the finer points of installation are verified which allows the project to progress forward. An additional benefit of this process is that a higher level of accountability is attained by having parties sign off on work as they go.

Training is also incorporated into the final stages of construction giving the owners and operators a level of confidence concerning their familiarity and experience with their new facility/home. At the end of the project, the expertise of the commissioning agent is used to test and verify the installation and operation of the system. In some cases, the commissioning agent may even be able to optimize the system.

I’ve already discussed some of the intangible benefits of commissioning, but what are the money savers? Well the answer to this question is largely dependent on the team involved in delivering your project, the expertise of the commissioning agent and on the timing at which commissioning services were engaged. If your commissioning agent specializes in sustainability and energy conservation, then long term benefits will be realized through lower operating costs of the facility throughout the life of the facility which makes the payback period associated with the cost of commissioning minimal. In fact the cost associated with commissioning is an investment.

According to an article in the February 2011 edition of ASHRAE Journal by Dr. Evan Mills, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL); a study on commissioning of 643 commercial buildings found that commissioning existing buildings had 16% energy savings on average and the payback was 1.1 years, while the payback for new construction was 4.2 years with a median energy savings of 13%. Dr. Mills believes that, “these findings demonstrate that commissioning is the single most cost effective strategy for reducing energy, costs and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today.”

In the short term, having a qualified second set of eyes observing the entire design and construction process means that fewer mistakes are likely to be made by construction teams. Mistakes made are far more likely to be caught before problems arise as well. This saves money and headaches for all parties as repair calls and warranty issues tend to be minimized helping to save time and hassle for both the owner and construction team. Once the job is done, why would anyone on the construction team want to come back to fix things? This costs money and takes time away from the next project currently in progress.

commissioning a rink

A thermal image of a ventilation system in a rink. Can you detect proper operation?

Additionally, by incorporating training into the process, building operators become educated about their facility before it is handed over to them. This gives operators the skills and confidence necessary to deal with the inevitable hiccups when they occur after turnover. Depending on the operators level of involvement during the training process, they will likely have encountered a similar issue during the training which will give them the skills and know-how to deal with issues promptly and efficiently without causing damage to the system or components.

In essence, commissioning is a means of ensuring quality by means of implementing a custom tailored process for the project. In this sense, commissioning should be more widely organized, utilized and accepted as a means of creating an efficient and well functioning society. A well commissioned society would be truly Future Proof.

This information was originally published on my initial blog here.

Shane Wolffe is currently looking to work on innovative projects in a commissioning related role. Such projects can be showcased through to demonstrate your company’s leadership in building a better world.

Projects that Shane Wolffe has led as commissioning agent:

  • Moose Jaw Multiplex, Moose Jaw SK – Fundamental Commissioning for LEED
  • Buffalo Pound Water Pumping Station North – Buffalo Pound, SK
  • City of Saskatoon Raw Water Pumping Station – Saskatoon, SK
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Pineview Project – Prince Albert, SK (initial stages)
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Shellbrook Hospital – Shellbrook, SK (initial stages)
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Family Treatment Center – Prince Albert, SK (initial stages)
  • Meadow Lake Provincial Court House – Meadow Lake, SK – Fundamental and Best Practice Commissioning for LEED
  • Red Deer RCMP – Red Deer, AB – Fundamental and Best Practice Commissioning for LEED
  • Humboldt Health Services Redevelopment Project – Humboldt, SK
  • Irene and Leslie Dubé Centre for Mental Health, Saskatoon, SK
  • Sasktel Center (Formerly Credit Union Center), Saskatoon, SK – Retro commissioning of mechanical systems

Shane has further provided support for the following projects:

  • Co-Op Administration Building – Saskatoon SK – Initial System Creation and Project Management
  • Banff Cave and Basin Welcome Facility – Banff, AB (final field inspection)
  • Saskatchewan Disease Control Lab – Regina, SK
  • Stem Cell Addition, Royal University Hospital – Saskatoon, SK
  • Spruce Grove Letter Carrier Depot – Spruce Grove, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Edmonton South Letter Carrier Depot – Edmonton, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Rona Sherwood Park – Sherwood Park, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Airdrie Post Office – Airdrie, AB – Commissioning for LEED


To inquire about services, please use the contact form on this page.